You can’t be influential without being excellent
One thing I’ve noticed in my conversations with people who are interested in careers in social change is the desire to be influential; to leave an impression, make your mark, and, of course, make a difference.
We’ve acknowledged that at the organizational level, good intentions are not enough and that there must be a commitment to being thoughtful, efficient, and effective in our work. Yet on the individual level, the conversation tends to stop at passion; somehow, by virtue of working for social change or having a particular title, or even by doing work that you like, you are somehow doing well and are in a position to influence outcomes and other people.
However, influence does not automatically come from choosing a career in social change, doing what you like, or even from your title. Influence comes from being excellent.
What does excellence look like?
Have you ever been in the presence of someone who is excellent at what they do? People who are so good, they make their work seem easy. Even if what they do is completely different from the work you do, you can’t help but feel inspired, and you certainly can’t ignore them. And in being inspired, you also begin to trust them. Once you trust them, you’ve given them power.
Are you willing to invest time and money into perfecting your craft?
Are you willing to introduce yourself to people whom you might not otherwise meet if it weren’t for your pursuit of excellence?
Are you willing to make mistakes — big ones, public ones — and learn from them?
Are you willing to take classes and attend conferences to strengthen your knowledge of your field?
Are you willing to ignore unrelated activities that might get in the way of you becoming excellent?
Passion alone isn’t enough and, without a commitment to excellence, is a hobby. You have to find what you’re willing to become excellent at. In doing so, our passions change, and so do we.
What do you think? What does it take to be influential?